Vodacom Super 14
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Stormers by 5, says Tiaan
Cape Town – The Stormers will get over the line in a tight Vodacom Super 14 semi-final against the Waratahs at Newlands on Saturday, according to ideal judge Tiaan Strauss.
The former Springbok and Wallabies loose forward, who also gave distinguished service to both Western Province and then the New South Wales side in the old Super 12, tips the home side to prevail, “but not by more than five points”.
Strauss, 44, lives back in the Cape these days and presently serves as general manager of rugby for Megapro, the sports marketing agency.
He says the Stormers’ home ground advantage and the travel bugbear for the Waratahs will be decisive in the outcome, although he anticipates the visitors being “a lot more competitive” than when they succumbed 27-6 at Newlands earlier in the 2010 campaign.
“This travel issue is much-discussed but it is definitely a factor: the guys manage it a lot better now as they’ve got more used to it, but it still affects physical capability on match-day.
“In the Waratahs’ case, you’ve just had a hard game (against the Hurricanes in Sydney) and you’re a bit bruised from it but then you have to sit in cramped confines for about 20 hours and grapple with sleep patterns and time differences.
“It takes you at least three days to get (to grips) with it to a good extent.”
Strauss said he felt the Waratahs, however, probably made a shrewd decision in basing much of their preparation in Durban rather than the city hosting the sell-out encounter itself.
“That’s not such a bad thing … it removes you from the whole Cape Town hype and media spotlight as well.”
He expressed surprise that the Waratahs’ style of rugby has sometimes been panned this season for its perceived lack of adventure, even in the Australian media.
“Look, I always keep a close eye on the ‘Tahs and I think they’re playing a nice brand of rugby. You’ve got to be sensible to be successful and not just run the ball at all costs – they’ve got the right balance at the moment.”
Asked where he felt the game might be won and lost, Strauss said: “I guess you always start with the pack. Lineout domination can make a big difference; who holds their own lineout comfortably and who steals a couple too.
“Andries Bekker gives a team a huge advantage with his height. He’s probably the most crucial player in the Stormers’ ranks – he is playing with such confidence at lineout time, at kick-offs and also with his defence.
“And the Stormers pack as a whole is blessed with lots of good ‘running’ forwards … they have at least five guys who really carry the ball well. It’s a great benefit.
“The two backlines measure up quite well, especially in terms of physicality.”
Strauss, who will be at the semi-final on Saturday, confessed his first loyalty would be to the hosts. “They’re my first-choice team (in the Super 14), but I can also say my second remains the Waratahs!
“I keep in contact with some of the older guys in their squad like Phil Waugh and Al Baxter (Strauss ended his three-year tenure with the side in 2000 – Sport24) and make a point of seeing them when they’re in Cape Town.
“Phil is always a key threat in the fight for the loose ball: he pushes the boundaries, has great body position and ‘sits’ on the ball to slow it down – you have to clean him out effectively if you want to avoid (frustration) in that department.”